Short Stories, Tale Africa

‘Ukuthwala’ (1)

By Ayanda Xaba, South Africa:

‘Ukuthwala’ has always been a part of our culture. It’s not really ‘abducting’ women but it’s marrying them off to a man who sees potential in her, even if she doesn’t agree or see potential in him. I have been in isolation for more than two months now, I lost count somewhere around day 40. My sister in law brings me food and bathing water. Of course; the ‘husband’ comes and goes as he pleases and does as he pleases. The plan is to make me fall in love with him and then start performing my duties as his wife. Over the past few days my husband seems to have lost his patience with me because it seems there is no love developing from my side. He has instructed his sister to stop giving me food and water because I disobey him.

A huge part of me died when I was taken from my family, I am numb, and don’t feel any pain or hunger. Zama, the sister, would steal food and secretly give to me and including a bottle of water. I honestly think she is the only kind person in this family. One night, her mother caught her sending me food and she got a real bad hiding. Today is day three without food and I haven’t seen Zama. I do not know the days of the week because there is no school or church for me. Since Zama disappeared, I haven’t even bathed. I do not worry about myself, I am a useless piece of furniture in this house anyway, but I worry about her. The way she was screaming that night sent shivers all over my body, I really hope she is okay. Her brother (the husband) peeped through the window yesterday and told me that I stink and left. I wasn’t even offended by his words; I just wished he had stayed a little longer so that I can find out how Zama is.

Bheki, my husband, is 35 years of age and works at an electricity company in the city. He owns a number of tuck-shops in the village so he is a well-off man. The villagers admire him because of his financial status and I have been hearing them through my window saying I am a lucky girl for being chosen by him. Of all the things I hate about him I like that he has never forced himself on me. He insults me, spits at me but when he tries to touch me and I resist; he stops and leaves. Maybe there is a person underneath that monster after all. His words are the most painful part of him; every time he opens his mouth it feels like he is throwing swords at me. I think it is too late for me to learn to love him anyway, I will just live in misery until he decides to let me go.

I have tried, time and time again, to teach myself to love Bheki but I just can’t. How can he rob me of my life and expect me to love him? I am just 21 years and fresh from university. I have been studying Psychology for the past three years thinking I will come back and change Blaauwbosch, my village, little did I know. I have always been a traditional young woman, observed my culture and respected my elders. Getting married is an undeniable fate for women in this area. I had prepared myself for marriage but I expected it to come after I had at least built a proper house for my family. I didn’t expect to come home only to be dragged away by two big guys I have never met and be kept in a hut with a family I don’t even know. My mother visited me once on the 30th day after my abduction. Her words echo in my head every day.

“Zandi my child, I know all your dreams and goals. This may have not been a part of your plan but try to use it and embrace it rather than fighting it.”

A life of poverty escaped or misery in the name of love begins.

Finding this old exercise book has helped my head to keep a bit sane. I have turned it into my diary; I wish I had found it sooner. I am jotting down my feelings when I hear a key sound on the door. Perhaps Zama has recovered and is bringing me bathing water. I can hear a bathing dish scratch the wall and then being put down. My eyes suddenly light up, excitement I cannot hide. I’m shocked to see a tall, muscular figure instead of Zama at the door. Zama is short, fair in complexion and chubby. She has dimples and big eyes; she looks like a cute doll, totally adorable.

It's Bheki with the bathing dish, a sight that completely throws me off, something I never imagined I would see in my life. What’s happening? Bheki is tall; seriously tall with big muscles. In fact, you can safely say he is fat. He has a round face and dimples just like Zama; it's just that he is darker in complexion. He comes in and puts the water next to me with fresh towels and soap and then walks out without saying a word. I watch him walk out, astonished. But where is Zama?

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